Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

The Age Old Problem Of Music

The recorded music industry has finally stabilised and it is competing with free. Whatever arguments are put forward for recorded music to go behind paywalls, the world we live in demands that music be free. Piracy of music is no more.

Why would people bother?

My kids are happy with free and putting up with a few commercials. I am happy with it as well, and on the occasions that some of my favourite artists release an album that has a super deluxe edition, I purchase it.

All of this low price points does lead to a mathematical outcome. Profits are tighter, which in turn means  large recording budgets go down. Who cares, right? With pro-studio equipment so cheap, 95% of musicians are DIY’ers’

But, are profits really tighter for the record labels. The whole Spotify/Sony contract highlights just how much money Sony is getting from being the holders of so many copyrights. Sony’s negotiating power is strong because of the artists that create musical works.

Unions have negotiating power because they have the workers behind them. Sony has negotiating power because they have accumulated the copyrights from artists that signed contracts with terms stacked against them. The unions fight for workers’ rights and better wages. Sony fights for a higher fee to their music catalogue and then fails to pass on the monies to its artists, both old and new.

The power of the labels has been accumulated by paying low dollars for a song. Take “Louie, Louie”. The song was written on toilet paper in 1955, recorded in 1957 as a B side and it did nothing. In 1959, Berry sold the rights to the song for $750. In 1963, the song became a hit. By 1987, Berry was living on welfare at his mother’s house. However, Berry did have some luck in a lawyer friend who managed to get his rights back just in time for the song to be licensed to an alcoholic drink commercial. Berry in this instance is part of the rare 1% that do have some luck. For the other 99%, no dice.

You know what the funny thing is, someone like Frank Zappa back in the early Eighties had the foresight to offer a proposal to the record labels to replace the LP model. Zappa proposed that the labels should store their recorded music vaults in a central location and offer the music via phone or cable TV straight to the user stereos via a subscription model. In Zappa’s words “providing material in such quantity at a reduced cost could actually diminish the desire to duplicate and store it, since it will be available any time day or night.”

The reason why Zappa was thinking outside the square back in 1982 was that the recording business was already in a state of bother, that the Internet and Napster brought to the forefront, 20 years later.

Change is constant. News used to be slow, we had three TV channels, music, books and films had gated/window releases, fewer people travelled and fewer people finished school. Not anymore.

You see, change for one side of the debate is always better and for the other side not so much. For the music consumer, the shift to access models over ownership models with lower price points is for the better. But it is far from perfect for the record labels and other gatekeepers. Even old school artists don’t like these changes. People have argued that it has led to unemployment or that creators have no incentive to create new music.

The age-old problem of music was always access. How do people hear it?

MTV broke down a lot of those access problems and made musicians into global superstars. MTV, P2P downloading and streaming are new approaches to age-old problems. While the record labels ignored the volcanic ash of Napster, the techies escaped the volcano blast and thrived.

The error of the record labels was in believing that what was familiar would not change. They got used to the high profit margins of the CD, so they found it hard to believe that in the space of a few years, those profits could disappear. Those marketing strategies and gated releases that have proven themselves over so many years, no longer bring in the sales the labels wanted. Instead it leads to an increase in P2P downloading.

Streaming has competed with P2P. Spotify has pumped millions upon millions into the recording industry. Money that was not there before. So what do the record labels, along with Apple and other misguided artists supporting Pono or Tidal want to do. Their solution to the age-old problem of access is to put it behind a pay wall.

Nice one. Let’s see how well that goes down.

A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

Hard Working Musicians and Some Not So Hard Working Musicians

When I sit down to write a song, I write a song. That means, I have a vocal melody, chords and a certain feel behind it. In the bands I used to be in, I would then play the song for them. Now, my vocals are limited, so when I play the original song there are some notes I cannot hit. However the singer in the band can hit those notes.

Now according to Sebastian Bach, because he can sing better than Matt Fallon, he should get a song writing credit.

Come on man, this sense of entitlement that everyone has is getting downright stupid.

I love the Sebastian Bach era of Skid Row and I love Sebastian’s solo stuff. I saw Skid Row play at Eastern Creek in Sydney back in 1993. I purchased their debut album because I saw that Michael Wagener was listed as the producer. I remember dropping the needle and being blown away.

I remember also picking up a bootleg of the Matt Fallon era of Skid Row and being amazed at how good the songs sounded in demo form. Of course, Sebastian Bach is the better singer and he is the difference between a good band and a great band. Plus he is Skid Row. As good as Dave Sabo and Rachel Bolan are at writing the songs, people will always associate their band with Sebastian Bach.

But, in the case of getting a song writing credit just because he sang the vocal melody better, Sebastian has it wrong.

The Skid Row guys know the truth. History has always shown people trying to rewrite the past to suit a current point of view. But seriously, based on Sebastian’s definition, then guitarist Scotti Hill should also be credited as a songwriter for the Skid Row debut. Why not, hey?

Hill’s lead playing is all over the album and in “18 and Life”, the lead work is very definitive. But it doesn’t work that way. It never did, however in the new world we live in with plagiarism lawsuits everywhere, anything is possible.

Another person that keeps on getting it wrong is Yngwie Malmsteen. When is he going to realise that as good as a guitarist he is, without a great lead singer, his band and his songs are just average. Joe Lynn Turner and Jeff Scott Soto are the right vocalists for Yngwie however those bridges have burnt.

The problem with Yngwie and other artists like Kiss, is that they haven’t created anything worthwhile recently that would make us pay attention. So no one is interested in obtaining their new music. In Kiss’s case, they can still make good money on the road. In Yngwie’s case, he is playing clubs and bars.

You see, in music you work your ass off to get a break and to build an audience. Then you need to work even harder to keep that audience and to replenish it. The big dirty secret that eludes artists is that fans drop off, lose interest or just move on to other bands or different styles especially if the music coming out fails to connect.

If you want to listen to Malmsteen at his best, the first four albums are essential listening. Anything after that is for the hard-core fans.

These days it seems that the popular artists forget why they became famous. It’s because of the music, stupid. It amazes me when I read interviews with artists who don’t feel it is necessary to make new music. The latest is Paul Stanley. The reason why he is a somebody, is because he wrote music. And a lot of it.

Look at guys like Mark Tremonti or even Joel Hoekstra. Both guys are super hard workers.

Tremonti has two albums coming out within a 12 month period from his band Tremonti, plus another Alter Bridge album. Chuck into that mix the Fret 12 guitar instructional DVD’s that he has been doing for the last 10 years and you can see how hard he is working at releasing content on a consistent basis.

Hoekstra just released “The Purple Album” with Whitesnake, has a project called VHF that will be releasing an album soon and another project called Joel Hoekstra 13 that will also be releasing an album soon. In addition to that, he released music with Night Ranger just last year and toured with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. All of that hard work is paying off for him at the moment.

So what do we know?

It’s hard work being a musician. It always has been and it always will be. Tremonti and Hoekstra are perfect examples of hard work.

Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

Certifications, Recorded Music and That Spotify/Sony Contract

I always have a decent laugh when I read music news. It’s always interesting to see how a news item gets copied across from website to website in my Google Alerts with no changes and no critical analysis.

Remember back in the day when all the rage was about how artists are struggling to achieve platinum certifications. All the commentary focused on the moment or within a 12 month period. It was like a platinum certification was the be all and end all.

Now, back in the Eighties, MTV made every act that got rotation into a platinum act. But that was not always the case.

“Ride The Lightning” was released in 1984 and it is my favourite Metallica album. It took five years to achieve a platinum certification. 28 years later, “Ride The Lightning” was certified 6x Platinum. Music simmers away and it just keeps on connecting. It’s not about corporate deals, or mega marketing campaigns. Metallica’s “Ride The Lightning” album is proof. It competed with piracy and it still sold.

Anyway, the RIAA recently re-classed a “sale unit” to be a paid download or 100 audio/visual streams. Based on this new re-classification, did you know that Shinedown’s “Second Chance” was just certified triple platinum?

Not bad for a song that is 7 years old.

So what does this say about recorded music?

If a song connects with an audience, expect it to sell and be streamed. The facts are out there. It doesn’t happen overnight or in a year. In happens over decades.

“Second Chance” on YouTube has 9,766,633 views on the official Atlantic Records channel. Another YouTube user called “McDrinkable” has a lyric video up of the song and it has 2,749,110 views, while another unofficial YouTube user called “Dushan Galappaththi” also has their own lyric video and they have 957,103 views.

“Second Chance” on Spotify has 21,845,406 streams.

So what do we know?

We know that music is not about the instant payola. Great music that connects with an audience will be listened too and purchased for a long time.

The beauty of Shinedown is that a song that wasn’t a single has more streams than the hit radio songs. That song is “Call Me”.

But the record labels still push an agenda that piracy is killing their business, while they make millions upon millions in licence fees from the streaming music services.

If you don’t believe me, read this article on “The Verge”. The advances paid to the record labels do not filter back to the artists at all. But hang on a sec, the record labels have this power to negotiate with the techies because of the artists. And the artists get nothing in return. That, my friends is the recording business.

Which leads me to the dumb journalists and artists that rallied behind artists who spoke out against streaming services. Let me say it again, the streaming services are not the enemy here. The record labels still are.

Looks like Roger Waters never got the memo. Even APRA’s Brett Cottle doesn’t get it. He wants the government to fight against pirates, however it is the labels that are holding back royalties.

Times are a changing people, but the record labels refuse to change.


A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories, Piracy

When Did Music Become About “Keeping Your Eye On The Money”?

Starting a band or trying to forge a career in the music industry is difficult. We all know that we have to start somewhere. I had no expectations of MTV stardom, fame and riches. For me music is a need to create something. I like to draw, write music, write lyrics, write short stories, take photos and so on. So I was never deluded that just because I started on a path in the music business that I deserved to be successful.

It’s funny when I think back, but when I started out with bands, the main talking point was distribution.

How do we make our music available?

Today I shake my head that all the talk is about money, streaming royalties, etc.

Now that the distribution problem has been solved, everyone believes that if they write a song and put it out on all the platforms, they should be a star. Guess they don’t know that 20 million songs on Spotify have never been heard.

Thinking about getting paid from the start is wrong. In music, you get ripped off a lot of times before you make any money, provided that you are still around to capitalise. Which doesn’t always happen, as people need to get a full-time job to support their life choices.

Gettin’ ripped off
Gettin’ sold
Second hand
That’s how it goes
Playin’ in a band

Then arguments come about like; “our music is ten times better than the crap on the Top 40”. Artists forrget that the most important thing is to have a track and an online presence.

Once you start talking about the Top 40 at band practice or to your peers, then you need to make music like the Top 40 and that means you need to get onto radio and all of the other old school distribution outlets.

Of course there are outliers; bands or artists that don’t make Top 40 music, however they have the songs, the charisma and the movement of a whole scene behind them, that ends up gaining traction and penetrates the Top 40.

These kind of artists have been off the grid for that long, they have figured out their act, built their fan base and have the experience on the board. You see when you are an outlier from the Top 40, you are constantly building up your fan base and gaining traction a little bit at a time. Your selling your merchandise. You are constantly releasing new songs as your fans demand it. You get your fans to invest in you. You are selling thousands of tickets to your shows.

A listener is someone who hears a song and then moves on the next one. A fan is someone who presses repeat over and over again after hearing your song. A listener will not invest in you, however a fan will, when they feel like it.

Remember, that music is a business and everyone wants to make money. So they look to the artists who can make them some money. And that is the problem the artists have. The majority of artists don’t really know what they are worth and when you add all of the competition they face to get a listener’s attention, the first thing that gets reduced is the value an artist places on themselves.

One more thing.

An artist could have all of the above, but that doesn’t mean that they are rich. All of those years of hard work means that the artist is still stuck at the starting line. The hard work begins when the artist crosses that line of being a nobody to being a somebody that some people have heard of.

That one last step to success is a giant chasm that is never crossed for many.

The music an artist creates is still the key, the doorway into their career. Good is no longer good enough. It’s always been about the best songs.

I dare anyone to name me all of the tracks on “Theatre of Pain” from Motley Crue or all of the tracks on the “The Wrong Side of Heaven and The Righteous Side of Hell” albums from Five Finger Death Punch or all of the tracks on the “House Of Gold and Bones” albums from Stone Sour or all of the tracks from “Super Collider” or “Endgame” or “Th1rt3en” from Megadeth. As much as we are fans of those bands, we still want the best from them.

Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

The Lies Of The Recording Industry

Money in the recording business is getting more and more each year. Warner Music Group has seen streaming income overtake downloads.

While Spotify is struggling to turn a profit from streaming, the labels are not. The free ad-supported tiers of streaming still make the labels money. The paid subscriptions model will also grow as IT companies are all about scale. This is what WMG CEO Stephen Cooper had to say and to me it is an important quote;

“The rate of this growth has made it abundantly clear to us that in years to come, streaming will be the way that most people enjoy music. Not only that, we are also confident that streaming’s ongoing expansion will return the industry to sustainable, long-term growth.”

Of course the main issue here is how are those streaming monies being filtered down to the creators.

The labels have large market power to negotiate because they have accumulated a lot of copyrights over the last 40 years. However the same artists that created those works get sweet f.a. The reason behind that is that the artist has sold or signed away their copyrights to the record labels for a fee. This normally happens before a song is popular, so the fee and the percentages the artists agree to are not representative of the market power that song might have in the future. Of course years later, the artist can re-negotiate their terms however the contracts are still stacked in the labels favour.

Even Universal Music who is pushing for no “free-tier” streaming service has seen substantial growth from streaming monies vs download and physical sales. Seriously, piracy equals zero revenue whereas streaming regardless of free/subscription offers a revenue stream. The more listeners these services get, the more income the labels get.

But the labels are greedy. If they reduce their music license fees, the streaming services can then reduce their monthly fees and more people will subscribe.

My kids love Spotify. They have grown up with it. For them, there is nothing else. Of course they don’t mind getting nostalgic with me and from time to time they ask me to play some vinyl or a CD. My kids also love Apple products so when I told them that Apple is trying to shut down the free-tier on Spotify and on YouTube, the first thing they said to me is “THAT’S DUMB”.

The public likes to be legal however we also want the legal alternative to give us what we want conveniently and for a low price. And finally in music we started going in that direction. Then came the “EXCLUSIVES”.

Suddenly, fans of music couldn’t hear everything on for the price they pay. And the end result is always piracy. People will pay for music again however it will be a long process. The label execs only think about the NOW. They are not interested in the long-term.

Back in the Eighties, not everybody paid. The recording business was challenged. We listened to the radio and we dubbed cassettes from already dubbed cassettes. We watched MTV. Eventually, people started to pay for music and the recording business grew exponentially. Greed set in and then a grenade went off in 1999.

Remember Napster. It showed the recording industry that the majority of music fans favoured access over ownership. A compressed file was deemed worthy by billions of people around the world. While the recording industry fought tooth and nail to go back to the old ways, technology companies managed to drag them kicking and screaming into a new way. Here we are 16 years later and access to music is a legitimate business.

But the recording industry want’s to ruin it all again.

A to Z of Making It, Music, Stupidity

The Studio Environment

You see from my experiences, the studio is the arena that more or less breaks a band. Four bands that I have been involved with, have broken up from the damage caused to each other due to being in a studio environment.

Let’s begin with my favourite first; the way the drummer in the band recorded his drum tracks.

This always happened by me recording a scratch guitar track to a metronome/click track. The reason why I had to do it that way was that the drummer would always be out with the click track if I had to play along with him in real-time.

I’m not fussed either way however by the time I had to record the scratch guitar tracks a few other little events happened early on in the process.

You see when you go in the studio it is ideal to freshen up your gear. What I mean by that is new skins and sticks if you are a drummer, new strings on the guitars/bass and so on.

So when the drummer turns up with beat up skins (because he couldn’t afford new skins) and the drum kit than sounds like a cardboard box miked up, its “Houston, we have a problem”. This in turn leads to a  band meeting. There is resentment there already towards the drummer from the other band members. The final decision is that we end up hiring a professional kit for a fee. The drummer is now upset with everyone and at the engineer as he believes it is a conspiracy against him. We are now upset with the drummer for making us stretch the recording budget to hire a drum kit which means less time for mixing.

Another golden rule for me is to ensure that each member is well rehearsed.

So while that fast 16th note double kick pattern might sound okay in a live setting, when you put the click track microscope to it, you start to see that the drummer really didn’t practice it on his own and it sounds “out” and sloppy against the click track. This in turn leads to another band meeting with some baggage in tow. The drummer now has had about 20 takes on a 30 second double kick section and he hasn’t nailed either one. We have spent money and no product is being produced. The band meeting decides that we cannot afford to keep stuffing around on this one song so a decision is made to can the song from the recording.

This leads to even more resentment from the singer to the drummer as it is the singer’s song. The drummer is refusing to accept responsibility that he is under-rehearsed, blaming everyone else for his misfortune. He is arguing that the song was sped up in the studio and that we play it slower live. He is arguing that it is the professional kit and the unfamiliarity of it that is making him play sloppy. None of this sits well with us.

So when you add all of these little hurdles together, you can see that the studio environment starts to become resentful and argumentative.

And it’s funny that as soon as we start to work in a studio (regardless if it is a home studio or an external professional studio) certain band members start to become unavailable for the scheduled time slots. The vocalist can’t make his scheduled times because suddenly casual work or something else becomes a priority.

So here I am spending my time and money and no one is putting in the same effort.

So I start to become even more resentful at how unreasonable the others are.

However I still believe in what I am trying to achieve and I still have the confidence and the motivation to see it through. As my Dad would always say, “Nothing is easy in life”.

Risk is always part of the equation. Some pain right now will lead to a lot of gain afterwards. But in order to get the recording over the line someone has to take the lead, so I take control like how I have always done.

So I begin to tell my band mates that their parts are not good enough. I make the drummer do take after take.

I re-do the bass lines with a pick as the bassist believes he is a finger style player. Like the drummer, the finger style bass lines work well live but sound sloppy in the studio. I get the singer to record line by line of the verses. In other words I become the control room dictator. The outputs eventually are good enough from all involved however getting to the end of the road meant a lot of road kill that would become hard to recover from.

I refuse to heel as I push for that finished product.

The problem of my ways is that I wanted it to be a band effort however I quickly learnt/realised that it was best to do it myself.

There was a producer for the recordings, however it was me that produced it and the producer was really an engineer. I am also the creator of the songs. Today there is no distinction between the roles. They are the same. In the studio I have at home, I am the creator, producer and engineer. I get what I want and I do a lot of trial and error.

No one said the music business was easy however being in a band and keeping a happy medium is tougher than doing it alone.

Copyright, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

Stupidity Incorporated

Stupidity just doesn’t seem to go away these days. Last month the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) promoted it’s World Intellectual Property Day with a slogan from a Bob Marley and the Wailers song called “Get Up, Stand Up”. WIPO’s theme was “Get Up, Stand Up. For Music”.

Did you know that a judge ruled against Bob Marley’s heirs a few years who sought to regain control of Marley’s copyrights from Universal Music claiming that Marley wrote the song as a work made for hire and thus Universal could keep the copyright, and not give it back to the Marley Estate.

Now “work for hire” means that an artist was commissioned to write a song to the exact specifications of the record label. Wikipedia states “work for hire” in the following way;

A work made for hire is a work created by an employee as part of his or her job, or a work created on behalf of a client where all parties agree in writing to the WFH designation.

I can’t believe how a judge would seriously believe that the record label at the time “Island Records” would have given the song titles to Bob Marley and told him the theme of what the song should be about.

Anyone involved in music knows too well that is not the case for at all. “Get Up, Stand Up” was written after Marley toured Haiti and the poverty that he was confronted with in that country.

As the Techdirt article points out, you have an organisation so dumb and out of touch with culture that it using a song from an artist that has been hijacked by the corporations who push for stronger copyright enforcement.

As far as I’m concerned, Bob Marley’s copyright MUST be in the Public Domain upon death. The public is meant to be the beneficiaries here, not the heirs and not the record labels.

Which brings me to the “Stairway To Heaven” court case.

You see I am not a fan of the heirs of an artist inheriting the copyrights of the artist once they die and I am definitely not a fan of the heirs of an artist suing others for money. We can all hear that Jimmy Page lifted the riff from the Spirit track “Taurus” and to be honest made a better derivative version of the Spirit track. For whatever reasons Spirit guitarist Randy California was cool with it and nothing happened. However the heirs are now challenging that.

What a sad state it is when a court has to decide on this and whichever way the court rules, the court is putting out the idea that one track is so original and the other is not. As a musician, trust me when I say that no song or riff is created in a vacuum. Each piece of music that comes out is a sum of our influences.

One final thing to add to my rant. When can the artists get it right when it comes to the music industry and recording industry references. Check out this quote from Ron Bumblefoot, the current guitarist in Guns N’ Roses.

”The music industry started to see their customers as their enemies and everybody suffered for it. Congratulations record industry – you’ve made a mess and you still don’t know how to clean it up.”

I always state over and over again, that the music industry is not the recording industry. They are two different entities. You see, the music industry didn’t see their customers as enemies, nor did they sue them, it was the recording industry that did that.